Did you know that rabbits make “cheese”?
When any other animal makes an abscess, the pus is liquid and can drain. Rabbits prefer a “wall-it-off” approach to dealing with infection, with thick cheesy material surrounded by a thick capsule. This means treating their abscesses is a real challenge. These abscesses will not drain; the purulent material and the thick capsule around it need effectively to be carved out.
Miffy is a Netherland Dwarf Rabbit, now 6 1/2 years old, and I have known and treated her for many years.
In the fall of 2011, she developed a big lump on her right jaw, and seemed to be in pain. She was eating less, and had gotten mopey.
The lump was an abscess, most likely from a tooth socket with infection that was breaking out into the surrounding tissue. In November 2011, she had her first surgery to remove the abscess.
Ever tried to pull up a dandelion in your yard, and you leave a little tiny piece of root and the whole thing grows back?
Well, a rabbit’s abscess capsule is like that. The abscess had eaten so thoroughly into the bone, that even really scraping at it did not get it all out.
A month later, in spite of antibiotics, the abscess was growing back. This time, when we did her surgery, we left something behind in place of the abscess we removed. I made up antibiotic-impregnated beads out of Bone Cement (Polymethylmethacrylate – PMMA). These beads gradually leach out the medicine, keeping the level of antibiotic high right where you need it.
Miffy healed up well from both her surgeries, and we thought perhaps we were done… but I saw her again in September 2012 with yet another lump on her jaw. An Xray taken at that time showed why the condition was never really going away: the tooth socket around her lower incisor tooth was one big abscess pocket. That socket was a protective “refuge” for infection, from which it could every-so-often strike out into the surrounding tissues.
Once again, we put Miffy under and debrided (cleaned out) the abscess pocket, and once again she healed well and was comfortable again for a while.
She had another abscess removed in February, 2013.
Then in May 2013, Miffy started to show pain again. She was not eating well, and would only eat soft foods such as blueberries.
Working a finger into her mouth, I could feel that the front lower molar was loose – and she let me know that it hurt for me to touch it! The abscess pocket surrounding the lower incisor and lower first molar had finally eaten away the attachments holding that molar in place.
Once that loose tooth was removed, Miffy immediately felt better, and was eating her regular food again within a couple of days.
Rabbits’ teeth are “open-rooted” – this means they never stop growing. The teeth are meant to wear down constantly against their opposing teeth, as the bunnies grind away at their fibrous and sometimes gritty diet.
Well, now Miffy does not have a lower first molar opposite her upper first molar. This means that about every 6 weeks, we are going to have to put her under again,briefly, to grind away the points on her upper first molar. If we don’t, the unopposed tooth will grow long and sharp enough to dig into her cheek and lower jaw.
Her lower incisor is still firm in its socket – we will be watching it closely to see if it, too, loses its attachments.
And, as before, we will be watching to see if her dental infection breaks out into her jaw again.
Bunny abscesses are no laughing matter! Miffy is very fortunate to have devoted people watching out for her and looking after her.
Thanks to her people, Eleni and Athena, for letting me share her story!